A week before the virus outbreak, Pauchi Sasaki emailed me a clip and score of her “Love Theme Caine.” She gave no instructions, except that the music “is very simple but full of unexpressed emotions.” The word “unexpressed” said it all.
I don’t know how to differentiate a poem from a song, or vice versa. A poem moves best when sung, and music—a voice that defies words. In Sasaki’s “Love Theme Caine” I find grace, Chopin, the Japanese ma 間 [a pregnant void, space, interval, pause, or emptiness], and a rather Spanish take on Baudelaire’s spleen. The work feels more intimate than romantic—whatever “romantic” means. It sounds like a pavane, or a nocturne glad for dawn.
Since the piece wasn’t expressly composed for a pentatonic zheng, I needed to work on its transposition, which was in fact a process of nonverbal translation. Pitching notes at the most meaningful gap or distance was one of the challenges.
When it comes to writing poetry, I have found a love poem the toughest. During an Institute seminar on Chernobyl conducted by physicist Emlyn Hughes last November, I mentioned that “there isn’t enough love among us humans,” so “shouldn’t we learn to love one another more?” Everyone laughed. What I said was to them a gaffe. Hughes came up to me afterward, and we immediately struck up a friendship. Whether our crisis now might be another version of Chernobyl, time would tell. During this lockdown, each day runs on a different clock. I hope we find in our confinement the courage to curb our compulsion to go out—not just physically, but spiritually—stop to face ourselves at some point—grieve, work and think inward, and listen harder.
Paris—March 22, 2020